Friday, May 27, 2011

Hopkins Vineyards in Litchfield, CT

Back in the day, when I was first started going to wineries, more than 20 years ago (gulp! is it that long ago?) I took my then girlfriend and another friend, and we drove up Route 7 to Hopkins Vineyards.

Set on the northern shore of Lake Waramaug, Hopkins Vineyard, a family-owned Connecticut Century Farm, proudly maintains a tradition of making fine wines of award-winning quality.

In 1787, Elijah Hopkins, returning from the Revolutionary War, chose this rich and fertile site on Lake Waramaug to settle his family and start the Hopkins Farm. The farm has seen the raising of sheep, race horses, grain crops, tobacco, and dairy farming in the intervening years. In 1979, the first vines were planted and the 19th century barn was converted into successful local winery.

They've been in business for 30 years. My first visit was back in 1990 or thereabouts. Bill Hopkins is the winemaker and Hilary Hopkins is President, both descendents of Elijah Hopkins himself.

The tasting room is housed in the estate's old barn, which has been re-outfitted for winery production. The tasting room is pretty, with a view behind the bar of the rolling hillsides. There are bottles everywhere festooned with medals and awards for all their wines.

I started with the barrel fermented Estate Bottled Chardonay 2008. It was light, lively, crisp, with hints of green apple and honeysuckle, a hint of melon, and a lovely smooth finish. A nice mineral feel comes across as well. This is a very, very nice chardonnay.

Estate Bottled Vineyard Reserve 2008 This wine is made froom estate-grown Seyval Blanc grapes. This is a big, fruity, crisp, light, dry, white. Apple and peach come across. The ending though it citrusy and bright. Very refreshing. One of the best Seyval Blancs I've ever had! Excellent!!!

Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled 2006 - This is an entirely estate-grown Cabernet Franc. It is medium-bodied red, with a nice nose filled with raspberry, cherry, vanilla. pepper, and a hint of pencil shavings (a classic Cab Franc trait). A touch of dried leaves or earthiness too. Nice mouthfeel, with soft fruits, dark raspberries, dried figs, and black currant all come through as promised. The tannns are not so up front here, and the finnish is smooth, but the fruit will linger, and the tannins hit late. One can almost taste the warm Connecticut summer, and the cool hints of autumn in this wine. A very nice wine, perfect for grilled meats. Lovely!

Estate Bottled Ice Wine 2007 - They do this the old fashioned way - picking grapes left ot hang for in the winter. They pick 'em in the cold Connecticut winter. This is a eye-popper of a wine. The nose is a big whiff of honey, apricots, apples and peaches. Big, big nose. The wine itself is unctious and delicious. The same flavors show up in the mouth, but with an acidity that balances out the sweet, with a flavor you want to savor. Its really a sensation you don't want to end. Luckily, it lingers for a good long time. Absolutely one of the best dessert wines I have ever tasted.

I hadn't been back here in a long time. When I was younger, I came here fairly often, hitting Haight-Brown and DiGrazia back in the day. Those were some fun days, riding in a convertible, with the top down, riding through the sun dappled Connecticut back country roads. Having grown up driving up and down the Connecticut roads from Fairfield down to Southport, Westport, Darien, New Cannan, and down to Greenwich, and driving up and down to places like Kent, New London, Stonington, and other places, I remembered a lot of days from my childhood and young adult life. Peering into jumbles of things in old antique shops, gleening through titles in ld book stores, and looking at countless stonewalls.

The winery in the back has grown since I first started oming. The rooms must be the same size, because I remember the walkways on the self guided tour, and they are very well worn. But the tanks seem bigger now and there are more barrels of aging wine. They are defintely making more wine than before.

They also have a series of picnic wines, with slightly lower price points, and graphically different labels. Westwind (a semi-sweet white blend) and Sachem's Picnic (a semi-sweet red blend) seem as popuar as I remember them being. Also, I was disappointed that the cider was sold out. It is a lovely, farmhouse cider, as I remember it. Quite nice. I was bummed it wasn't available.

The other thing I highly recommend is going up stairs to their lovely diningroom, where you can sample a bottle of wine and a nice cheese plate featuring locally hand made Connecticut farm fresh cheeses.

I know Wolfe said You can't go home again. But for one day, it was nice to see, and know that instead of diminishing in your eyes, that it had actually improved with age - as all fine wine should. Hopkins was somehow even prettier than I even remembered. And the wine had aged very, very well. A great, great expereince in a beautiful part of the world.